03 Oct 2018 Press release Sustainable Development Goals

Celebrating bold environmental leadership and a plastic-free future in India

  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was recognized for his environmental leadership on the global stage with a Champions of the Earth Award in Delhi today.
  • Modi champions the International Solar Alliance, a global partnership that aims to scale up solar energy in ‘solar-resource-rich countries’.
  • UN Environment and Indian industries continue the fight against pollution: starting with a partnership to turn the plastic challenge into an opportunity for business leaders.

3 October 2018 – For his leadership in the fight against plastic pollution in India, and his unwavering commitment to tackling climate change around the world, UN Environment has bestowed the United Nations' highest environmental honour upon Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi today, by awarding him the Champions of the Earth award.

Presented by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New Delhi today, the Prime Minister received the Award for his extensive efforts to ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’– including an ambitious pledge to eliminate all single-use plastic in the country by 2022. He was also recognized for his initiative ­– together with French President Emmanuel Macron – to champion the International Solar Alliance, a global partnership that aims to scale up solar energy in ‘solar-resource-rich countries’ and reduce humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels.

“Climate change poses an existential threat to the planet. Many leaders know and recognise this threat, but the difference with Modi is that he acts on it with enormous energy. We need more leaders like him,” Guterres said as he presented the award. “Through a number of policies, including LED lighting, clean cookstoves and solar expansion, India is betting on a green economy because they realise that is the economy of well-being.”

“I accept this award on behalf of millions of Indians who protect the environment each and every day,” Modi said. “From fisherfolk who only take what they need or tribal communities who think of forests as their family. We will never be able to tackle climate change without bringing climate into our culture. And this is why India is taking so much action for our climate.”

Taking further advantage of the current momentum to tackle pollution across India, UN Environment announced a long-term partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry to reduce plastic waste. Through the launch of an ‘un-plastic’ initiative, the partnership will explore new ways to offer the private sector the chance to turn an environmental challenge into new opportunities, exploring new markets.

“Prime minister Modi’s unprecedented bold stance in the fight against single-use plastic sent a clear message to the world that the time for action is now,” Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim said. “It is ambitious leaders like him that will propel us forward in the fight to keep our natural environment healthy, accessible and sustainable for all. For this, I am immensely inspired and grateful.”

Under Modi’s leadership, Indian sustainable policy implementation and green grassroots initiatives have flourished, with forty million new cooking gas connections and over three hundred million LED bulbs being installed across the country. A major push towards renewable energy in recent years has propelled India to become the fifth largest producer of solar energy and the sixth largest producer of renewable energy worldwide.

The Champions of the Earth Award is the United Nations' highest environmental honour, bestowed on the world's greatest change agents – individuals and organizations meriting international recognition for their environmental achievements.

Other winners of the 2018 Champions of the Earth Award were: Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, creating high-quality vegetarian meat-alternatives; the Zhejiang River Chiefs program, tackling water protection, pollution prevention, and ecological restoration; Joan Carling, a prominent activist championing indigenous and environmental rights; Cochin International Airport, the world's first fully solar-powered airport; and French President Emmanuel Macron, for his international cooperation on environmental action.


Watch the video on Prime Minister Modi's Champion of the Earth Award.

About UN Environment

UN Environment is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UN Environment works with governments, the private sector, the civil society and with other UN entities and international organizations across the world. 

About Champions of the Earth

The annual Champions of the Earth prize is awarded to outstanding leaders from government, civil society and the private sector whose actions have had a positive impact on the environment. Since being founded thirteen years ago, the awards have recognized 84 laureates – ranging from leaders of nations to grassroots activists – in the categories of policy, science, business, and civil society. Visit the website here: http://web.unep.org/champions.

For more information, please contact:

Jasleen Dhanota – Outreach and Campaign, India Office, [email protected]

Keith Weller, UN Environment, Head of News and Media, [email protected]